Mystery of the Amateur Detectives: The Early Days of the Hardy Boys
The first literary ambition that I can recall was to someday become an author of Hardy Boys books. Even as a nine-year-old, I could examine the list of the forty or so Hardy Boys books written by Franklin W. Dixon, some with copyright dates in the 1920s, and deduce that Mr. Dixon was getting to be a pretty old man. Soon, I concluded, he was sure to die or retire, so that there would arise the need for a talented new writer like me to carry on the adventures of the Hardy Boys.
At the time, I would have been greatly disillusioned to learn that " Franklin W. Dixon" was merely a pseudonym employed by various anonymous writers following outlines developed by a man named Edward Stratemeyer ( 1862-1930) and his successors in a company called the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Even as an adult, Canadian writer Leslie McFarlane experienced a similar shock regarding his favorite boyhood author, "Roy Rockwood." After answering a 1926 advertisement, he was hired to write a Dave Fearless novel from a Stratemeyer outline, to be credited to Roy Rockwood: "Discovery of the truth about Roy Rockwood left me a little stunned.... He was just as fictitious as Bomba the Jungle Boy" (13).
After some success with the Dave Fearless books, McFarlane was then sent Stratemeyer's outlines for a new series--the Hardy Boys--and, unlike other Syndicate writers, he later wrote an autobiography describing his experiences, Ghost of the Hardy Boys. Armed with this information from the flesh-and-blood author who first assumed the name of Franklin W. Dixon, we can begin to examine the mystery of this unending series--still going strong today with over two hundred volumes published--and its enduring popularity. The first eight books, all by McFarlane, are especially noteworthy, since they can be knowledgeably examined as the products of a stimulating collaboration between a mechanical generator of plot lines and a creative author desperately trying to add some wit and style to the stories.
One issue that must be mentioned first is whether all the claims in McFarlane's autobiography are true. Undoubtedly, he did write many of the early Hardy Boys